Tuesday, September 21, 2021

D-Town Brass: “Impossible Voyage” (2016) CD Review

In 2016 D-Town Brass, a wonderfully original big band, recorded a soundtrack for the 1904 silent film The Impossible Voyage, Georges Méliès’ sequel (sort of) to A Trip To The Moon. The Impossible Voyage is a humorous film about scientific exploration of the sun, and it pokes fun at the rich and inept, and includes plenty of physical comedy, including pratfalls and such, as well as ridiculous vehicles crashing into buildings and rushing off of cliffs. Eventually, the characters are able to get one of their vehicles into space, and – in a shot similar to that famous image from A Trip To The Moon – there is a face in the sun. This time, instead of the ship hitting the face in the eye, it flies into the face’s mouth as the sun appears to be yawning. That image is used as the cover for the D-Town Brass album. If you haven’t seen the film, it is definitely worth watching. And it is even more enjoyable if you play this album by while you do. The first ten tracks of this disc make up the soundtrack to the film, and the music is continuous, one track running into the next.

The album opens with “The Plan,” and you can sense the excitement of certain people at this idea of going off to explore the sun. The music also tells us how goofy the idea is. “The Plan” leads straight into the second track, “Machine Room,” and here we have the insanity of those hard at work on the various gadgets and gizmos that will help take the foolish tourists to the sun. This track is a lot of fun, but it also shows us how these people are taking their activity very seriously, even if we aren’t. There is a sense of mystery in the second half. The work on keyboards at the beginning of “Train Station” feels like the music we might expect to accompany a silent film, which is interesting in itself, coming as more of a surprise from this innovative and unpredictable group of musicians. Later the music begins to sound like a somewhat slowed carnival ride, which actually turns out to be perfect, for the train they are on is like a group of clowns arriving in town. I love the craziness at the end of this track, as the fools burst through a building before plummeting off a cliff, leading to “Crash.” Yes, their work comes to naught, as the vehicle crashes off the cliff rather than flying off into space, a low moment for our intrepid travelers. But everyone is all right, of course. This is a comedy, after all.

Upon emerging from the hospital, these folks are ready and eager to get right back to it, and their next vehicle waits for them just outside. The music gives us the sense of the people as performers in a flea circus, ushered aboard to entertain us as they almost certainly are again heading for trouble. But then, something magical happens, and the music reflects that. Their insane attempts are successful, and the train flies off into space toward the sun. “Sun Treader” is a short track as the vehicle ends up in the sun’s mouth, much to the sun’s displeasure. That’s followed by “Landing,” another short track, which heralds the group’s arrival in somewhat triumphant sounds. But there are some dark tones here too.

“Problems” is one of the coolest tracks, even as our travelers suffer from the extreme heat of the sun. It’s a good thing they’ve brought their Glacier Ice Tank with them. These silly folks did think ahead. However, the setting on that tank was a bit too cold for people, and soon they need to thaw out, the music here stressing the trouble, the worry. Clearly they’ve had enough of the sun, and return to their ship. Percussion begins “Underwater,” while our group of would-be heroes manages to drift off the sun and land in the ocean back on Earth, where at first they enjoy watching the sea life in peace, but soon some strange undersea monster threatens them. This is another of my favorite tracks. Percussion also begins “Processional,” the final track of the film’s soundtrack. Here there is a joyful sense and an excitement, sounding like a parade, a celebration, as the folks emerged unscathed from their journeys, likely having learned nothing. But, oh, what fun!

The film is only a little more than eighteen minutes, so this disc contains several other tracks, beginning with “Fluoridation Station,” which quickly establishes a great groove, one to get your body moving. And, hey, we can’t help but think that our bodies are crazy machines too, just like that train flying off into the sun. Right? The blood is pumping, and we get the sense there are tiny creatures hard at work to make sure everything is running smoothly. But don’t think about that, just dance and enjoy yourselves. Then toward the end, things get strange. Has the machinery gone on the fritz? Who knows what it might do in that case? Ah, but things get fixed, and the groove resumes. That’s followed by “Cosmo.” When I see the word “Cosmo,” I think of two people: Doug Clifford (drummer of CCR) and Richard O’Brien (who wrote The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Shock Treatment, and played Dr. Cosmo McKinley in the latter). As this track begins, it is definitely in more of a Richard O’Brien realm than a Doug Clifford realm, for there is a strange science fiction vibe to this, keeping with the theme of the main portion of the album. This track creates an odd environment where you get the sense things are being attempted, and there are hints of intrigue, with someone sneaking around behind the machinery.

“Every Inkwell” is one of the most interesting tracks, with its own particular world and vibe. Just let it take you where it will. The instruments feel like characters, and you just want to watch them interact. Or listen to them interact, I suppose. Also, I enjoy the percussion. That’s followed by “The Hum Drum,” which, as you might expect, begins with drums, soon developing a good, steady beat, while the horns then offer their own thoughts and observations. The track begins to build from there, turning into a lively beast. The disc then concludes with “Meatpackers Union,” which features another strong and delicious groove, the band jamming on it and leaving us all happy.

CD Track List

  1. The Plan
  2. Machine Room
  3. Train Station
  4. Crash
  5. Journey To The Sun
  6. Sun Treader
  7. Landing
  8. Problems
  9. Underwater
  10. Processional
  11. Fluoridation Station
  12. Cosmo
  13. Every Inkwell
  14. The Hum Drum
  15. Meatpackers Union

Impossible Voyage was released in 2016.

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